Former San Antonio Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud, Money Laundering
SAN ANTONIO – Former San Antonio Attorney Christopher John Pettit, 56, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to wire fraud and money laundering.
According to court documents, from around October 2019 to July 2022, Pettit made numerous misrepresentations that persuaded his clients to deposit money with his firm, Chris Pettit and Associates, PC, which funds the clients believed would be used for services such as living trusts, irrevocable trusts, estate planning services, investments, and real-estate transactions, but which Pettit instead misused for his own enrichment and as part of a Ponzi-type scheme.
In one scheme, Pettit opened trustee accounts with client funds and simply moved the money to his own accounts, rather than using the funds for the benefit of the trust. Other fraudulent schemes included falsely promising to invest client money in high percentage bonds and instead wiring the funds to his personal account. He also falsely represented himself as a Qualified Intermediary for a 1031 real-estate exchange, which he used to convince clients to wire millions of dollars from asset sales into accounts he controlled and then misused for his own enrichment. Pettit would use his victimized clients’ funds to pay other client debts as well as to support an extravagant lifestyle. The schemes resulted in an estimated loss to the victims of between $20 million and $65 million.
Pettit pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 11, 2024, and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud counts and up to 10 years for the money laundering counts. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza of the Western District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Oliver E. Rich Jr. of the FBI San Antonio Field Office made the announcement.
The FBI is investigating the case in conjunction with representatives of the Texas State Securities Board and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Almonte and Kelly Stephenson are prosecuting the case.